About Jay (Yair) Vilnai

A composer and performer with a unique background and versatile abilities, Jay Vilnai’s music is at once new and familiar, drawing on everything from Balkan folk music, Chicago blues, a long lineage of jazz styles and Western concert music. It reflects the current, vital generation of Brooklyn artists in the embryonic 21st century – a generation that explores how this plurality of heritages can add up to something meaningful and beautiful.

Vilnai’s musical journey owes to a unique heritage as a Russian-Romanian-Polish descendant raised in Jerusalem around a mix of contemporary and traditional Jewish and Arab music. Vilnai picked up the guitar at 14, inspired by the rock and folk music. He soon became interested in jazz and began studies at the New School Jazz and Contemporary Music Program where he graduated with honors in 2003, studying jazz with Brad Shepik and Vic Juris, and composition with Kirk Nurock and Bob Sadin. As a guitarist, he became interested in folk traditions from the Balkans, Middle-East and more, which led to performances with Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio, Aaron Alexander’s Midrash Mish Mosh, Romashka, as well as other ensembles.

Known as an in-demand guitarist for a wide variety of musicians, from composer Ljova to the Broadway team Saltzman and Cunningham, he has shared the stage with such diverse figures such as trumpeter Frank London, balafon player Famoro Dioubate and the Phoenix Symphony. He also led his own ensemble, Vampire Suit, whose music studied the intersection of chamber, jazz and folk traditions, and was said to possess ‘enduring beauty’ by Cadence Magazine.

A deeper interest in composition led Vilnai to complete an MM in composition at Brooklyn College, studying with Jason Eckardt. During his studies he has received the John Cage Award for excellence in Composition, and selected as composer in residence for the conservatory’s orchestra and Contemporary Music Ensemble, directed by Ursula Oppens. He has been commissioned by the Metro Chamber Orchestra to create a concerto for himself on guitar and chamber orchestra, New York Trombone Consort, ai ensemble, trombonist Jen Baker, trombonist Will Lang, and video artist Elizabeth Hamby. His compositions have been performed around the country, most notably by CUNY’s CME, OMNI Ensemble and others. His composition ‘Amiable Beast’ was a finalist in the International Music Prize for Excellence in Composition. His 2011 release ‘Shakespeare Songs’, featuring the MIVOS quartet and singer Gelsey Bell was said by Lucid Culture to possess ‘creepy otherworldliness’, and ‘ghostly ambience’, and was a finalist for the 2014 American Prize. In 2016 he released ‘There is a Bluebird in My Heart’, settings of texts by Bukowski that employ samples, production and audio manipulation inspired by contemporary pop music and setting a new frontier for art-song in the 21st century. He has been selected as artist-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson and at the Brushcreek Foundation for the Arts.

Jay (Yair) Vilnai

Accordion, Bass Guitar, Bassoon, Cello, Clarinet, Drums, Flute, French Horn, Guitar, Harp, Horn, Lute, Mandolin, Oboe, Percussion, Piano, Piccolo, Recorder, Saxophone, Trombone, Trumpet, Tuba, Oud, Viola, Viola da Gamba, Violin, Voice, Composition, Conducting, Music Direction, Production

Brooklyn, New York, United States